Sylvia Méndez was born in 1936 in Santa Ana, CA to a Puerto Rican mother and a Mexican father. As a young child, she attended a school for Hispanic children. When she was eight-years-old, her parents decided Sylvia, her brothers, and their cousins should attend a nearby Whites-only school with better resources. The school said Sylvia’s lighter-skinned cousins could attend, but she and her brothers could not.
Their lawsuit against four Orange County school districts had long-term repercussions in California and across the nation. Their victory led to the desegregation of California schools and ultimately to desegregation throughout the United States after Brown v. Board of Education.
Sylvia made her career as a registered nurse and now devotes her time to traveling and lecturing on the historic contribution she and her parents made to civil rights in the U.S. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
“We weren’t being taught to be smart. We were being taught how to be maids and how to crochet, and how to quilt.”
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